Clawed forelimbs allow northern seals to eat like their ancient ancestors
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Streamlined flippers are often considered the defining feature of seals and sea lions, whose very name ‘pinniped’ comes from the Latin pinna and pedis, meaning ‘fin-footed’. Yet not all pinniped limbs are alike. Whereas otariids (fur seals and sea lions) possess stiff streamlined forelimb flippers, phocine seals (northern true seals) have retained a webbed yet mobile paw bearing sharp claws. Here, we show that captive and wild phocines routinely use these claws to secure prey during processing, enabling seals to tear large fish by stretching them between their teeth and forelimbs. ‘Hold and tear’ processing relies on the primitive forelimb anatomy displayed by phocines, which is also found in the early fossil pinniped Enaliarctos. Phocine forelimb anatomy and behaviour therefore provide a glimpse into how the earliest seals likely fed, and indicate what behaviours may have assisted pinnipeds along their journey from terrestrial to aquatic feeding.
Hocking , D P , Marx , F G , Sattler , R , Harris , R N , Pollock , T I , Sorrell , K J , Fitzgerald , E M G , McCurry , M R & Evans , A R 2018 , ' Clawed forelimbs allow northern seals to eat like their ancient ancestors ' , Royal Society Open Science , vol. 5 , 172393 . https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.172393
Royal Society Open Science
© 2018 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.
DescriptionFunding for this project was provided by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Postdoctoral Fellowship (656010/MYSTICETI) to F.G.M, by Marine Scotland to support the wild observations recorded by R.N.H., by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship FT130100968 to A.R.E., and by an Australian Research Council Linkage Project LP150100403 to A.R.E. and E.M.G.F.
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